Field of Science

Maybe there are more atheists in foxholes!

A team of psychiatrists at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, USA have been taking a look at the religious beliefs of military folks who attended outpatient clinics, and they've turned up something rather interesting.

Well, in fact the main thing they found wasn't too surprising. It'll shock no-one to learn that these military patients were overwhelmingly Christian. In fact, 87% were Christian, 8% no religion, with a smattering of minority faiths. Only 73% of the US population in general say they are Christian.

Fascinating, even if expected. Just what is it about the military that's so attractive to Christians in the US? It's a topic for a blog post on its own (the link between religious identity and nationalism), but it isn't what caught my eye.

What did catch my eye was that those on active duty were significantly less likely to be religious!

Their interview sample included a mix of retired military personnel (16%), family members (30%), and those on active duty (53%). And on every question relating to the importance of religion in life, those on active duty scored lower.

Unfortunately, they didn't dig into why that might be. For example, men and younger people were also less religious, and the strength of the effect was about the same. Since servicemen on active duty are (I guess) more likely to be male and younger, that could well account for it. However, they didn't do the stats to find out.

But even assuming that age and gender account for the lack of religion among active service personnel, it's still a fascinating finding. The folks back home, praying away, while those sailing the high seas put their trust in technology and their fellow crew!


ResearchBlogging.orgMcLaughlin SS, McLaughlin AD, & Van Slyke JA (2010). Faith and religious beliefs in an outpatient military population. Southern medical journal, 103 (6), 527-31 PMID: 20710135

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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